Not Real News

On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming COVID-19 vaccines make people produce a spike protein that is a toxin and can spread to other parts of the body and damage organs.

THE FACTS: COVID-19 vaccines do instruct the body to produce spike proteins that teach the immune system to combat the spikes on the coronavirus, but experts say these proteins are not toxic and do not damage organs. “The spike protein is immunogenic, meaning it causes an immune response, but it is not a toxin,” said William Matchett, a vaccine researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Dr. Byram Bridle, an associate professor in viral immunology at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, forwarded the fringe theory about the spike protein being a toxin during a radio interview with Alex Pierson in Ontario, Canada.

“We made a big mistake. We didn’t realize it until now, we thought the spike protein was a great target antigen. We never knew the spike protein itself was a toxin and was a pathogenic protein so by vaccinating people we are inadvertently inoculating them with a toxin,” said Bridle, who described himself as pro-vaccine.

But scientists and researchers say that is not the case. Dr. Daniel Kaul, an infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan, noted that the vaccines have been proven safe and effective through clinical trials and the millions of people who have so far received the vaccines in the U.S.

“In terms of the spike protein itself being pathogenic in some way that’s just simply not true,” he said in response to Bridle’s claims.

All the vaccines that received emergency use authorization in the U.S. do not contain live COVID-19 virus. Nor do they contain actual spike protein from the virus, which is what allows the virus to easily infect the human cell and replicate.

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The vaccines work by teaching the immune system to identify and fight off the spike protein in the body. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on messenger RNA, often referred to as mRNA, that delivers a set of instructions to create spike proteins so your body can learn to combat them. Unlike the mRNA vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine carries its genetic instructions for the spike protein through a modified adenovirus.

Posts online shared quotes of Bridle’s interview to further push the false narrative that COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous and attack the body. In the interview, Bridle says that the spike proteins generated by the vaccines don’t stay in the shoulder muscle, but spread and cause “so much damage in other parts of the bodies of the vaccinated.”

But Dr. Adam Ratner, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health, said that vaccines are mostly concentrated at the site of injection or the local lymph nodes.

“What was said in the radio show was completely inaccurate,” Ratner said. “There is no spike protein in the vaccines first of all. The amounts that are made after the mRNA is injected are very small and it almost exclusively stays locally. It is nowhere near the amount he was talking about.”

Bridle did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. An auto-reply email from his account said that a more comprehensive report on his comments would soon be published. “My answer to the question posed by the host was objective and founded on multiple reliable scientific sources,” the email reads.